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Sales is NOT a Dirty Word

Prior to starting my consulting career, I worked in associations for nearly a decade, as director of membership, marketing, and customer service. Back then it was very common among membership professionals to declare: “I don’t do sales!” What we did was somehow different than what “typical” salespeople do. In other words, “sales” was viewed as a dirty word.

But the reality is, every association is in the sales business. Whether you’re selling membership, event registrations, products, or certification programs, the fact is, you’re selling. Not only is it time for associations to acknowledge that they are in the business of selling, it is also time to start implementing actions and creating a culture that support the sales process.

If you’d like to hear a deeper discussion on this issue, click here to view my recent chat with KiKi L’Italien of Association Chat

So what can associations do to become more “sales-focused”? The first step is to identify explicitly what the association has to sell. This will vary broadly by association. For example, one client of mine only sells membership, subscriptions, and products. Yet another client of mine sells membership, event registrations, certifications, accreditations, exhibits, sponsorships, advertisements, products, and more.

The second step is to identify the processes you will use to manage the sales function. You have to answer questions like the following: 

  • Who is responsible for selling which products and services?
  • Are any sales commissionable?
  • What is our sales process (e.g., identifying prospects, marketing to them, closing sales, etc.)?
  • How will we keep track all of this?

So where does technology fit into this discussion? Like many other processes, technology can help ease the burden of keeping track of all of this. The software should help you identify prospect lists, track communications you have with the prospects, and help you move prospects through the sales funnel (e.g., non-qualified prospect, qualified lead, proposal sent, in negotiations, won/lost). With well-implemented software and effective processes, you should be able to easily identify who your prospects are, how many you have, where they are in the process, your close rate, and much more. All of this data can help you become more effective as a sales organization.

The good news is that AMS vendors are starting to build more sales management functionality directly into their AMS packages. And some AMS systems are built directly on Dynamics CRM and Salesforce, two products that have sales process management inherent to the system design.

So what are your next steps if you want to create a sales-focused association? Here’s what I recommend: 

  1. Identify all of the products your association sells. Anything that brings revenue to the association is something you’re selling, so look at your revenue streams to help you identify what you sell.
  2. Determine which of these products have a high enough volume or high enough revenue to merit developing a sales process around. For example, if you only sell 10 exhibit spaces per year, you probably don’t need a formal sales process for exhibit sales. But if you sell hundreds or thousands of products, publications, or membership, those might be worth establishing a sales process around.
  3. As noted above, establish who is responsible for selling each product, develop a process for selling, and use your technology to track the process.

Establishing a culture and the processes of a sales-focused organization is not a single event, nor will it happen overnight. But implementing these steps and becoming more sales-focused can help advance your organization’s mission by bringing more revenue to the association.

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